Meditation: Praktikos 1-5

1. CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of asctical practice, the [contemplation of] nature, and theology.

For Evagrius Christianity is not a mere mental exercise. It is a tiered doctrine (or teaching) which consists of an practical element (abstaining from vices and acquiring virtues), the contemplation of nature (the meditation on the realm of created being – first of which is Scripture), and theology (the experiential knowledge of God attained in prayer). The first thing to understand is that a Christian needs to do something to be a Christian: have faith in Jesus Christ and be baptized. The baptismal faith is the context for the entire treatise we will be looking at here.

2. THE Kingdom of Heaven is apatheia (dispassion) of the soul together with true knowledge of beings.

The Kingdom of Heaven, paradoxically, refers not first and foremost to the realm where God dwells but to the realm of creation. To attain to this Kingdom one needs to cleanse oneself from vices and acquire virtues. A heart troubled and clouded with ignorance and vice is unable to discern the divine purpose of God’s creation. In a sense to attain to the Kingdom of Heaven is to re-gain the world as grace – as gift from God. To re-discover creation as (in Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s terms) Eucharistic (see his “For the Life of the World“). Though our ascetic efforts are always insufficient to attain the Kingdom of Heaven it is given to us by God as gracious gift if we strife to obey His commandments (for what these commandments might be please Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount).

3.THE Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity exercised according to the capacity of the nous (mind/intellect) and bestowing incorruptibility upon it.

There is an ambiguity in this verse. Another translation might be: The Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity co-extensive with the substance of the mind and surpassing its incorruptibility. This is no accident. The Kingdom of God indicates experiential knowledge of God in prayer. Prayer is – for Evagrius – a state of the “mind” (not to be confused with the modern idea of mind, Evagrius’ use of the term is closer to the biblical pneuma) achieved by ascetic practice, meditation, and reading of Scripture. The Divine Office Psalm-reading was precisely to facilitate such a state of prayer. The Psalms, as the word of God spoken to us (like Jesus to His disciples in the Gospel of John) cleanses and educates and prepares for meeting God in the words of prayer we addressed to God following the Psalm and in the silence following after that prayer may happen. For the achieving of the state of prayer is prepared by our efforts but not (strictly speaking) gained by them. God graciously accepts our insufficient preparations and grants it to us.

God and the mind have their incorporeality in common, but God and the mind are not of the same substance. Because of the similarity between the mind and God it possible for a human being to know God according to the capacity of the mind. The mind is altered by contact with God in the sense that stability (incorruptibility) is given to it by God. The mind depends on God for this, because God exceeds the incorruptibility of the mind – that is the mind is created and God is uncreated. Much is said in this one verse!

4. WHATEVER a person ardently loves (eros) he will want completely. And what he wants he will struggle to acquire. Now every pleasure is preceded by desire (epithumia) and desire is born of sensation: thus that which is not subject to sensation is also free from passion.

Put the scenery of Genesis 3 before your mind’s eye. The forbidden tree became an object of “love” or “desire” for Adam and Eve and they ultimately ate the forbidden fruit with all the consequences with which we are today more than familiar. The desire for the tree is made possible because of our senses perceiving the tree. Had we not been able to “sense” it, we would not have been tempted by it. The devil (snake) tempts us first and foremost through abusing the senses of our body – so that if we give in our entire lives are now subject to the wants, needs, and whims of an untamed flesh. The verse above follows the sequence in which humans are presented in the Bible in the moments of temptation and sin. Evagrius establishes a pattern from the particulars given in this story.

What is not subject to sense perception – Evagrius means the things divine and incorporeal – are not subject to temptation born from our senses. The things of God do not “tempt” they do not “arouse passions” (these latter being addictive patterns and not simply emotions).

5. AGAINST the hermits the demons engage in naked combat. Against those laboring at virtue in monasteries or communities they arm the more careless of the brethren.

For the second battle is much lighter than the first, since there cannot be found on earth men more bitter than the demons, or [able] to undertake all their evil doings together.

Temptations of the nature which Adam and Eve were exposed to by the forces of evil, are the same ones that we are exposed to today. For those living in solitude it will be a direct attack, and for those living in community it will be by means of others. Have you ever watched Survivor? Have you noticed how good people get involved in plotting, back-stabbing, and such things if the circumstances are right? That is how demons “use” other people to tempt us. It is not their fault though … If we would not have any fertile soil for temptations to flourish within our hearts nothing bad would happen, we would not necessarily fall in sin. It is our reaction to temptation which matters. Alone or in community temptation and sin are the responsibility of the one being so tempted. “The devil made me do it” is not an acceptable excuse!

Fr. Gregory Wassen +

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